What Do You Get When You Cross a Lutheran & a Crack House?

You get these two videos that have been dominating my brain this week.
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Excellent words from Nadia on the first night of the Dome when we were in New Orleans. Both Megan and I turned to each other after we heard her give this talk and were stoked to be Lutheran — as lame as that sounds. I hope you enjoyed her talk.

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Bit of a different talk, but equally effective. A lot of times we look for the church to be a refuge away from the “evils of the world.” What I really like about Pete’s video is that a lot of what we do, as the church, is we create more dependence on ourselves. People need to come to us for certain things. We have ministries that give people a fix rather than helps identify our brokenness so that we don’t need that fix.

Great points from two great minds.

So watch these videos when you get a couple of minutes. Let me know what you think of them. Pass them on, if you’d like. I think they are some profound words for us.

Cheers,
Eric

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The Dark Knight Rises & The Power of Silence

Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.” – The Dalai Lama

Christopher Nolan is one of my favorite living film directors. He’s done MementoThe PrestigeInception, and the three newest Batmans. His movies always make me think, leave me in suspense, and freak me the heck out. The more I think about it, the things that freak me out most in his movies is the use of silence. In some of the suspenseful, crescendoing scenes in movies, we have been conditioned to expect the music to build up along with the anticipation. But what Chris Nolan does is he often uses silence to do that build up for him.

And it’s terrifying.

For those of you who have seen Dark Knight Rises [and if you haven’t, this won’t be too much of a spoiler] but when Bane is about to come out onto the football field, when he’s walking through the tunnel, don’t you expect some kind of chaotic build up to the frenzy that would take place when he enters the field? Instead, literally all we hear is the voice of a little boy beautifully singing the Star-Spangled Banner. I’ll save the lecture on nationalism in the face of imminent destruction for another day.

The point is, whenever destruction happens, we flock to sounds and chaos and noise. Whenever I’m home alone and scared, I turn on the television just so there’s some background noise going around. Anything but silence.

And when something as terrible as the shooting in Aurora happens, we hurry to make noise. We blame parents. We  blame the media, the internet, rap music. We blame the shooter’s parents, we blame this generation’s parents, we blame all parents. My particular brand of noise was against guns. But we make noise all the same. Anything but silence.

It reminds me of a passage from the Book of Job. After the initial round of sufferings against Job — call it evil’s shock and awe campaign — three of Job’s friends come to him and see that he’s in terrible distress and sadness. Here’s what they do:

12When they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him, and they raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their head. 13They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.

Initially, they make noise. But then they settle into silence. This is the response of the faithful. Immediately after the tragedy in Aurora, a pastor made sweeping declarations that all non-Christians who were killed in that theater are going to hell. I wish he would have just kept silent. That kind of noise is despicable on top of incredibly insensitive.

Why can’t we simply do as Job’s friends did? See people who are suffering and sit down and weep with them? 

We don’t have to explain away their problems, or get them to laugh to escape their pain.

People yelling louder won’t change the fact that 12 people went to a movie to be entertained, and didn’t come out of the theater alive. Dozens more came out injured.

Lest we forget the shooter. We forget that someone became so broken and jaded against the world that he felt the only thing to do was to take tear gas and guns into something as innocent as a movie theater and start shooting.

Certainly as more details emerge, and more evidence comes to light, these conversations need to happen. We need to talk about available mental health resources. We need to talk about why this kind of thing happens.

But for now… we need to recognize, as Chris Nolan does, that there is power in silence. We need to learn to sit with victims of senseless violence and say that it’s terrible and senseless and appalling.

And weep with those who weep.

Cheers,
Eric

Penn State & False Idols

“Every one of us is, even from his mother’s womb, a master craftsman of idols.” – John Calvin

It seems like this Penn State story just won’t die. Every week there is a new angle to take, or another press conference to cover. First, we had the Sandusky verdict. Then we had the release of the Freeh report. Then the statue was taken down. Now, the sanctions were issued by the NCAA . At some point in this process, I am sure many Penn State fans were hoping for some sort of vindication for the longstanding face of the football program, Coach Joe Paterno. But at every turn, those fans are disappointed. The Freeh report concluded,

The most saddening finding by the Special Investigative Counsel is the total and consistent disregard by the most senior leaders at Penn State for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims….

Not good. What it says is that the most powerful people in at the University, and apparently that region of Pennsylvania — University president Graham Spanier, Athletic Director Tim Curley, and coach Joe Paterno — did absolutely nothing to protect the dozen or so victims from a child sex predator. They exhibited an incredible lack of empathy by failing to inquire about the safety of the victims, and even allowing Jerry Sandusky to have continued access to official university facilities right up until his arrest.

If this had happened at any other University, the statue would’ve been torn down like it was the statue of Saddam Hussein in the center of Baghdad. But the residents of the — now, fairly ironically-titled — town of Happy Valley, PA have protested tooth and nail every repercussion of these incidents.

This leads to the question, what is it about Joe Paterno and the football program at Penn State that makes covering up 12 years of sexual abuse okay?

I think the answer to this lies in what many have called the “cult-like worship” of Saint JoePa. For so long, Joe Paterno stood as this irrefutable figure, a pillar of exemplary class and work ethic. He was held up and idolized for hundreds of thousands of Penn State students, alum, and fans. For many, the statue of Joe Paterno outside of the football stadium still stood for this reputation for always doing the right thing. The only problem is, for most people outside of the reach of the Happy Valley kool-aid, that’s not what that statue represents anymore.

And that’s the thing with false idols — they always disappoint.

Early on in the Hebrew Bible — Leviticus for those following along — it says that we are not to turn to idols or make cast images for ourselves. And what’s a statue if it isn’t a cast image? Even though we can think of Leviticus as washed up and having no place in society — which some if it is — this part still hits the nail on its head. For the people of Penn State, the JoePa statue gave meaning and identity to the school and its students.

This is why people in the early days of the Israelites made idols. They couldn’t find God so they created statues and idols to be God’s place. But when we try to pinpoint God’s placement, it often doesn’t work well for us.

But we buy into this all the time, don’t we? We chase things that we feel will give us meaning — the newest technology, a nicer car, a bigger house — but they never do. That’s because it’s a sign of success, but it’s hollow. There’s nothing backing it except pride and desire for approval. There’s no faith. There’s no compassion. There’s no justice. There’s no love.

There’s just the hollow feeling that false Gods leave on their way down.

Cheers,
Eric

A New American Dream?

“What is ‘an American’? Do we have something important in common, as Americans, or is it just that we all happen to live inside the same boundaries?… We talk a lot about our special rights and freedoms, but are there also special responsibilities that come with being an American? If so, responsibilities to whom?” – David Foster Wallace in Consider the Lobster and Other Essays

As Americans, we put a lot of emphasis on personal freedom. Living in Arizona for 11 months has made me realize this all the more. They love their freedom down here. They don’t want any constraint. People want the freedom to do whatever they damn well please, regardless of the consequences to everyone else. For instance: It is legal for anyone over 21 to carry a concealed weapon without a permit — that’s just the freedoms we’re entitled to as Americans!

It’s gotten to the point where anything that hinders the dominant culture’s freedom in any kind of way is an affront to their American citizenship. I say dominant culture because this freedom does not extend to the GLBT community to marry or really any other minority culture. As long as your white and male and have never been accused of being anything else, you’re free to pursue your highest ambition — and carry a concealed 9mm without a permit to boot! Here’s what we need to realize.

When we are “free” to join the rat race of ambition in America, we’re not really free at all. It’s at that very point when we’re most enslaved.

I think we would be better served to create spaces where people can exist outside of the rat race. Where your material possessions, job title, or social status doesn’t matter, but you’re freed to just be a person, to be you.

Mother Teresa used to say that the physical poverty of the East was nothing compared to the psychological poverty of the West. 

Physical poverty can be addressed. It can be seen. Psychological poverty, spiritual poverty, is much more slippery.

When we put our freedom above the freedom of our neighbor, we’re in deep psychological poverty. But what if we had spaces where we could be free of that? Where we could be free from our relentless pursuit of the “American dream” — or our highest ambition? What if we had spaces and times during our week where we could give all of that up and enjoy a glass of wine with friends? Or what if we could go out into nature and enjoy the beauty of a lake, forest, ocean,or  mountain?

It’s in the beauty around us that we find the grace to survive. And it’s in that grace we live. That’s my vision for a faith community: a group of people that doesn’t exist for the pursuit of some higher pleasure — be it heaven, eternal life, an experience of ecstasy, or an escape from the weekday rat race.

But what if a faith community — or what if a renewed America — was the place where we could check that crap at the door and learn how to be happy living in the moment with the people we love?

That’s a freedom worth fighting for.

Cheers,
Eric 

God Bless America?

Yesterday morning, the Supreme Court ruled on the Affordable Care Act (labeled Obamacare by its detractors). By the end of yesterday, everyone was claiming victory, either present or future. Every senator, representative, pundit, blogger will make their requisite statements. Idiots will wave behind the reporters just to tell their friends who don’t watch MSNBC that they were on MSNBC.

Here’s the thing…

I’m happy that, as a result of the court’s ruling, more people will have access to healthcare and be able to be covered. But how much freaking longer can we exist like this? Mitt Romney lauded this kind of program as a “responsibility” when he was governor. Now he’s running for president and has completely 180’d from that position simply because his opponent is pushing for it.

The Republicans were longtime champions of this bill until the Democrats were for it too. Then they couldn’t be against it fast enough. What the hell is that? That’s not the point of governing a nation.

We simply have to stop disagreeing with each other just for the sake of disagreeing with each other.

We need to find a way to come together with a responsible way for giving people the care they need. If you have a better alternative, I’m all ears. But we simply can’t keep going like this. Next Wednesday is the 4th of July and with it will come chants of “God Bless America.” But what kind of America are we asking God to bless? We’re in bad shape. These arguments that we make have direct correlations to faith.

Josh Smith over at Everyday Revolutionary sums it up well.

What would Jesus do? Most likely, he would stop whining about paying taxes and pursue the cause which seeks to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people, regardless of power, politics, and money. So you may argue the finer details of this debate—it is, after all, a much more complicated discussion than what time and space have permitted me to write about here—but in the end, for the Christian, it ultimately falls to the simple decision of whether or not we are loving our neighbors with our actions. If your argument is more about splitting hairs than about showing love, you are wrong. Wrong.

It doesn’t make sense to keep fighting. Let’s find a way forward that helps everyone get their basic needs covered, and then we can go from there. Until then, it’s just pointless to keep fighting.

Cheers,
Eric

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